Milton in Purgatory

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 02 Sep 2019

Member Reviews

What happens to us when we die?

A popular theme in fiction and religious thinking. 

Edward Vass for his debut novella writes about this subject, when his protagonist Milton meets an untimely death.

Set in Oxford, Milton’s life has passed him by, no great successes; a dead end job and few friends, who he can count on the fingers of both his hands. 

The writing is bright and draws you in to Milton’s mediocrity. He tries to be friendly and chat to others but he doesn’t really know what to say.

There is a problem with this type of story, it is that we have probably read it all before, encountered the religious jargon and the stereotypical language. The author embraces all these difficulties and elevates his piece to new heights of imagination and spiritual invention.
He has a funny turn of phrase and sees humour around this dark subject. While no-one touching this subject can avoid treading on toes and religious sensitivities. The author goes for it and needs recognition for his bold approach to this subject. Taking Purgatory as his model of life after death; a place for assessment and evaluation, Milton has to step carefully to make sense of this new reality regardless of any specific destination in mind. The experience though is elevated by the ideas Vass brings to the documenting of Milton’s life and how God assimilates those acts before consigning one’s soul to eternity.

I loved the Cuba tie-in with Hemingway and perhaps even a doff of his literary hat to Graham Greene. This is also the seed in Milton’s life to be more adventurous and you sense this is one of the themes of the story, realising our dreams before death calls time. The other seems linked to this, when death takes away loved ones and how we cope with that loss and live on in the hope of being re-united in heaven.

I would warmly recommend this short story. Like all good literature it makes you think outside your comfort zone and presents ideas in new ways. This bodes well for this author who I would suggest has a bright future now he has been given a platform for his writing. Fairlight Books deserve credit for their approach in promoting new authors and pushing talent to a wider audience.
Was this review helpful?
This is a bit of a romp, imagining what the afterlife might hold for one man and, by extension, all of us.  I enjoyed many of its ideas, not least the character of the ‘narration’, recording one life after another for eternity - now that’s what I’d call purgatory - and to make matters worse he has to endure a continual commentary from three ‘observers’ he acquired over the years.  Milton (and therefore we) can’t see or hear these three so we can only follow their conversation from the ‘narration’’s often tetchy reactions.  I liked his wry, world-weary take on events in Milton’s life and afterlife.  In fact I’d say the ‘narration’ was the best bit of the book for me.  The rest was fine, inventive and surreal for sure, but became a little bit like listening to someone describe their dream to you, probably more fun for the person involved, ie the author.
Was this review helpful?
Crikey. How do I began my review for this one? 

It's weird. So very, VERY weird. But. I LOVED it!

When I began reading I was concerned that this novella was going to be rather mundane. We met Milton Pitt, who is unextraordinary in every way imaginable. He goes about his life in the way you would expected a man in his late twenties that has no direction in life to. Hungover to hell (quite literally), peeing in his bedroom sink and wondering whether or not he can pull another sicky. 

What I was not expecting was this laugh-out-loud, weirdly profound little gem. I won't give the plot away, and to be honest, I'm not sure I could accurately and cohesively summarise it if my life depended on it.

Final though - read this book, buy this book, borrow this book, find a way to get your mitts on it. 

Bloody brilliant. I have a feeling I'll be thinking about this book for years to come...
Was this review helpful?
Thank you to NetGalley and Fairlight Books for providing me with an eARC of this book.

I don't know what I expected from this book, I guess I should have known it would be quite peculiar given the title but I was happily surprised by it!

This book follows Milton, a young enough guy that doesn't have a lot going for him and ends up dying at the beginning of the book after getting run over by a car (so not a spoiler I would say).

He then wakes up in a place he doesn't know and first thinks he's dreaming but discovers that he's dead and is being sent to purgatory.

This was just my kind of weird and funny, I really enjoyed both the writing and the characters, I just thought they maybe didn't need to swear as much but that's just a detail (and I guess most people would swear if they discovered they were dead and in purgatory?).

Overall would recommend!
Was this review helpful?
A quirky, weird read I loved. The start is intriguing, and I loved how the author effortlessly used the language. Also set in Oxford and reading the mention of places I once wandered around made it even a better read!
Was this review helpful?
Milton in Purgatory is exactly that. A story about Milton in purgatory. It's an interesting dive into a very weird & unpleasant version of purgatory. This was definitely a book that grew on me over time & I was satisfied with how it ended. But the beginning was really slow & the book as a whole has a lot of gross parts, mostly with bodily fluids (vomit, pus, etc), that I thought was unnecessary since they really didn't add anything to the story.
Was this review helpful?
I love Dante’s Divine Comedy (which isn’t really a comedy, regardless of what the title says) and actual comedy, so a modern re-imagining of it from the point of view of a British teen? Yes, please.
After all, we all know the British are the best at cynicism, sarcasm, and dry humor. They’ve had time to perfect them, obviously.

Milton in Purgatory is a short but fast-paced journey through the afterlife, with subverted expectations, dry humor, and a painfully average (and therefore highly relatable) protagonist.

I’m not sure exactly how much I can say about this book, because it really is about the journey. The greatest pleasure in reading this (aside from the humor, which yeah, forever sign me up for British humor please) was discovering this version of the afterlife, bit by bit. There were surprises around every turn.

My Thoughts:

- The protagonist is Milton, a perfectly ordinary, unexceptional teenager who’s not ready to die. Which makes his journey so much more relatable. He’s not exactly a hero. In fact, Milton doesn’t have a whole lot going for him in life yet. Which, of course, means his reactions as he discovers things are pretty spot on to how most people would react, which was nice. The fact that Milton is so everyman means that his reactions are delightfully apropos and exactly what you would expect, and his character was so approachable because of it.

- The humor made this a quick, fun read. Even when it felt like not much was happening, there were a lot of things that made me laugh. Because if you have to journey through the afterlife, why not make it a funny trip? Everyone appreciates a bit of humor. The humor in this is a dry, sarcastic, British sort of humor, occasionally crossing over to the dark side. I’m a huge fan of the British style of humor, but I know it can be a bit of an acquired taste. If that’s your sort of thing, though, this book is rife with it.

- Narration is a delightful little creature/character and has such a fun personality. Now, I can’t say too much about this because it borders potential spoiler territory, even though the reader meets him fairly early. But this character is delightful in that he’s funny and mysterious and maybe a little confusing in the way he talks to people that only he can see.

- The whole point of this is subverting expectations, so be prepared to be surprised about the afterlife. Forget everything you thought you knew about what comes after death, because nothing can prepare you for the journey Milton’s about to take. To be fair, Milton was woefully unprepared, too, so at least you’re in good company. I can’t really say anything about this, because the point of the story is in the journey, but I definitely looked forward to all the little surprises and twists that the book had in store.

- This story is a short, quick read, but there’s a lot bundled into a small package, and I just loved the way it wrapped up and ended. At only 119 pages, this is a pretty short book (novella, really, if we’re getting technical). And these are sooooo hit or miss with me, because I sometimes feel that there’s things missing, sacrificed for the shorter word count. That was not so much a problem here. Despite being so short, there’s a full story, with characters that I felt like I had the chance to know sufficiently well enough to like, and a conclusion that felt like a nice way to wrap things up and didn’t leave me wanting.

Sticking Points:

- There are times when the story gets so ridiculous that it was just hard to follow without rolling my eyes. This entirely just comes down to personal preference. I don’t do complete absurdity well. I’ve tried. I can do the fantastical, the weird, the crazy, the unexpected … but in the end, I need things to still fit together in an orderly fashion and make sense. This book definitely embodies surrealism, and does it well for the most part, but surrealism is so hit or miss for me personally that I don’t always “get it”. I definitely struggled with some aspects of this book. It was a very small part overall, but it still stood out for me.
Was this review helpful?
I thought this book was crazy, in a good way. I’ve not read anything quite like it before. I had no idea what was going on half the time. This is a good thing. I love it when writers confuse and bewilder me. I hate it when I can see what’s coming. Did Milton really die? Did he have some weird dream? Who knows? Who cares? I was happy just to be swept up in the crazy ride. The book gets darker and darker towards the end and I was creeped out a great deal of the time. This is an excellent book.
Was this review helpful?
What does Life have in store for us after Death?  Or, let me rephrase that… What does Death have in store for us after Life?

It is a question which the world’s greatest religions have grappled with, which the earliest myths and foremost philosophers have pondered upon, and which has inspired great art, music and literature. It is also an enigma which is unexpectedly thrust upon twenty-six year old Milton Pitt, hit by a car on his way to the work. 

Milton leads quite a boring life, alternating between days at the office and boozy nights out.  He has no important relationships and no short-term goals (nor long-term ones, for that matter) apart from a vague, unrequited appetite for travel inspired by a picture book about Cuba, a childhood gift from an émigré uncle.  This wanderlust will soon be rewarded with the strangest trip ever, as Milton is unexpectedly catapulted into the Afterlife. 

Edward Vass’s novella is an inventive, hilarious romp which turns many tropes about Heaven, Purgatory and Hell on their head.  Milton makes for an entertaining narrator as he navigates the cartoonish stations of the world beyond.   There’s a degree of irreverence and no doubt a couple of conservative eyebrows will be raised at the portrayal of Jesus as one Barry Davis, a bossy official of the Innovation of Religion Department.  Yet the humour is so good-natured, elicits laughter so naturally and is ultimately so warm-hearted that I cannot imagine anyone seriously taking offence.

At the same time, Milton in Purgatory should not be dismissed as “mere” comic entertainment. The best comedy tends to have a moralistic element.  And Vass’s novella is as much about the world we live in as it is about the crazy otherworldly kingdom it portrays. Throughout there are witty, well-aimed barbs which satirize the (un)comfortably numb existence cultivated by contemporary society.         

This is another winner in the latest clutch of Fairlight Moderns. The novella is often viewed as the “Cinderella” sister between the short story and the novel.  This series is doing much to right that wrong.
Was this review helpful?
A lot of crazy originality, irreverence, grotesque imagery and banal self-reflection is packed into this tight little volume, which takes its Everyman through his death and into the beyond in the tradition, if not the form, of epic poets of yore. The best bits I cannot share here because spoiling the best bits would take away from the fun (which is why this only gets four stars from me; five star books don't require the element of surprise to be enjoyable, but without its surprises this book is a bit dull), but they are worth the slightly tedious slog to get to, and you haven't long to wait to enjoy them (in other words, the length is just right). The book works best as an allegory on the self wrestling with the demands of the ego, and enduring having the latter repeatedly cut down to size, but with bits that, while not thigh-slappers, are gently and ruefully amusing. I wouldn't recommend this book to everybody, but to those I would, I would recommend it heartily.
Was this review helpful?
Great read. The author wrote a story that was interesting and moved at a pace that kept me engaged. The characters were easy to invest in.
Was this review helpful?
Twenty-six year old Milton Pitt has a bit of a rubbish morning. He wakes up hungover, surrounded by his own sick, in a cluttered little house in Oxford. After pissing in his bedroom sink and prodding his sleeping hamster a bit, he shrugs into an ill-fitting suit and rushes to catch the bus to work. He almost thinks that he has forgotten his ticket, and when he gets off the bus he has to look at a squished frog on the road that some children are examining. He steps out to cross, and is rammed by a speeding car. He dies right outside his office, and begins a surreal journey into the afterlife at the mercy of his Narration, a strange little creature who claims to have been watching him from birth. So, no, not a very good morning at all.

Edward Vass’ debut bristles with black humour and a tone which is distinctly British in its sardonicism. Milton Pitt doesn’t like himself very much, and he sure as hell doesn’t like you either. His grimacing narrative voice cuts like a keen blade, getting more than an occasional eye-rolling smirk from me. Each of the characters he encounters, from his Narration, to a grandma on the bus to heaven, to God Himself, share a similar brand of derision. Milton in Purgatory places its characters and its world on two extreme ends of the scale of reality: the players are pragmatic, but the stage is a surreal form of Elysium entirely incompatible with any of the laws of logic. Rather than waste time in questioning every occurrence, often a source for tedium in works of this nature, Milton submits to the will of Purgatory and allows himself to be swept along its rapids with only the odd sarcastic remark to indicate his discomfort. He is British, after all.

If I had ever read anything by Terry Pratchett, I would say that this work feels heavily inspired by Terry Pratchett. Vass employs a number of literary and historical references throughout the work, the most obvious being Milton himself. As I’m sure we all know, it is a well-established rule among writers and literary scholars that we must mention Paradise Lost at least twice a week or risk excommunication. Whether his surname is a nod to Pitt the Younger is not quite as apparent, but I’ll pretend for the sake of my own enjoyment. The Narration has a plethora of imaginary friends and previous narrated lives rife with “hey, I understood that reference!” opportunities, from Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, to Ariq-Boke (brother to Genghis Khan), to a Lady Jane Atherton who I unfortunately drew a total blank on. Your interpretation of Narration’s closest voice, Kazuo, may change depending on whether you link him first to Ishiguro Kazuo (romance novelist who is notably not dead) or Kiriyama Kazuo (Battle Royale antagonist who coldly murders his classmates with a machine gun). I personally went for the second option. Of course, it could simply be a reference to Kazuo’s etymology – ‘harmonious man’ – but I had more fun this way.

Perhaps this capacity for interpretation is the novella’s strongest point. A big namedropping loser like me could have endless fun hunting for references, and I can imagine this work having genuine cause for scholarly consideration as a modern interpretation of the Afterlife. However, it’s also an easy read full of wicked humour that can be eaten up in an afternoon. My only niggle, and it’s definitely a personal niggle, is that Vass didn’t go quite as balls to the wall as I would have liked with his surrealism, or as biting with his black wit.

A fun, clever little debut. If I were you, I’d keep an eye on Edward Vass.
Was this review helpful?
What a gem! Beautifully written. A unique look as what happens after we die. I'm in awe of the author's imagination.

Full RTC!
Was this review helpful?
I absolutely loved this book. Thank you.

https://alisonscattybookcorner.blogspot.com/2019/08/milton-in-purgatory-by-edward-vass.html
Was this review helpful?
#MiltonInPurgatory #NetGalley

This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. First off, I’ve never read a book like this before and I absolutely fell in love with the style of this novel. I found myself putting everything else on the side line today so I could finish this book. 

This story is more about than living in purgatory; it’s about the struggles of everyday life and how to not take anything for granted. It’s about living everyday like it’s your last and treating everyone with respect. There is so much to talk about with this book but unfortunately it’d all be spoilers. But I wanna say thank you to Fairlight Books for letting me get an advance copy through NetGalley. 

I most certainly recommend this book. Milton In Purgatory is one of my favorite books I’ve read this year.
Was this review helpful?
This novella follows Milton Pitt, a 26-year-old man, who is killed on his way to work. After an out-of-body experience as a butterfly, Milton enters Purgatory, where he meets some strange people in strange circumstances.

Milton was an interesting main character but, aside from him, no other character stood out.

The story was bizarre, yet funny. However, the book did not follow a linear plot, instead just followed Milton wandering around in Purgatory, which was disappointing. I really wanted to be mind blown by this novella but, unfortunately, that was not the case. Still, it was entertaining.
Was this review helpful?
My thanks to Fairlight Books for an eARC via NetGalley of Edward Vass’ ‘Milton in Purgatory’ in exchange for an honest review.

Twenty-six year old Milton Pitt lives an unremarkable life in Oxford. One morning on his way to the job he despises, he is hit by a speeding car and finds himself hovering over his dying body. From there Milton relates his increasingly bizarre after-death experiences. 

This isn’t an easy book to review given its inherent strangeness. I was initially drawn by its striking cover art that suggested that its pages contained something very unusual. It is part of a series of novellas published as Fairlight Moderns.

That the title references both John Milton and Dante’s ‘Inferno’ indicates that this is more than a fantasy romp: it is darkly comic, surreal, and hallucinogenic with philosophical and religious themes woven throughout. 

I found it delightful and was almost weeping with laughter in places. For example, just after his death Milton finds that he has changed into a butterfly and fluttering about asks himself why he is speaking human English. Or is he a butterfly with an inbuilt translator? 

Its quirky humour certainly appealed to me and it is a book that I likely will reread in order to further appreciate its nuances. As my reading group often enjoys unusual books that offer plenty of discussion points, I expect to propose ‘Milton in Purgatory’ to them.

I feel that Vass is a very talented writer; who has created a heartwarming, funny, strange, literary tale of one man’s experience of the afterlife and a meditation upon the meaning of life. 

4.5 stars rounded up to 5. Highly recommended.
Was this review helpful?
When I first heard of this one, I saw a lot of reviews likening it to Virginia Woolf, and having read it now I can say that that description is a gross misunderstanding and doesn’t at all do this wonderful novella justice, especially with its humour and specific tone. It reads as though Simon Rich wrote The Good Place, both of which I already love, and so it was really great to be able to read something similar to these two as I think they are so unique in and of themselves.
Was this review helpful?
An entertaining and completely bonkers novella from Edward Vass, Milton in Purgatory wasn’t what I expected and I mean that in the best possible way. From a 26 year old man lamenting his hangover and talking to his hamster to a serious reflection on his life and actions, this is a short and up to date version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol but infinitely more fun!
Was this review helpful?
What did I just read?! Milton in Purgatory is a fantastically bonkers novella about Milton Pitt, a perfectly average 26-year-old who wakes up in a hungover fug, sets off to work, dies, and begins progressing through the various stages of the afterlife.  

What starts out as reading a bit like Nick Hornby-esque lad-lit, turns into the surreal silliness of Douglas Adams or Robert Rankin if they were writing The Good Place. So in other words, this was right up my street.  I genuinely laughed out loud during the chapter with Tracey, the lift porter.  

After one miss, this was my second hit from the Fairlight Moderns series.  I'll definitely be readng more by Edward Vass (@edward_vass_author).

If you like quirky, fun, philosophical, fantasy books, then definitely give this a whirl.
Was this review helpful?